Absent the Wrong – Dublin Fringe Festival – Review
Dylan Coburn Gray & Once Off Productions
Performances: 13 – 17 September & 19 – 24 September – 19:00, €16/ €14
Other performances – 17 September 13:00, €16/ €14
Venue: Abbey Theatre – Peacock Stage
Alarm bells started ringing when I saw the duration of this piece, as it clocks in at 3 hours long. For a Fringe play, that is something of a marathon! In truth, there are three very distinct parts to this play, and while characters from one piece turn up in the next, it is often at quite different times in their lives. The production is billed as an artistic “response to the publication of the Mother and Baby Homes Report”. For many, that will be enough to put them off as it is not the easiest night at the theatre, nor would you expect it to be on this topic. The writer, Dylan Coburn Gray, does not dwell on the institutional pain and suffering that took place in the homes and instead looks at the long-term effects on the lives of those involved.
The first act of the play is a series of vignettes of people looking for information on their birth parents or children. There are ten actors on stage and they all play a number of different roles. There is a “clock” on the wall which is used to tell the audience what year the events take place in. A number of blue utilitarian chairs fill the small space, to create the institutional atmosphere of the office blocks where people go in search of their records. The backdrop of the set shows a page of text with line after line redacted. The people searching are met with a wall of bureaucracy and red tape, as they encounter problems with social workers who discuss privacy and later GDPR. We see the frustration and annoyance it generates first-hand. There is the odd success story, however, when one woman quite by chance meets a girl who she thinks is her daughter!
The second act deals with this mother and her daughter, who is now an emerging artist in her mid-twenties. We see her on the opening night of one of her shows, along with a number of her friends. They are a wild and alternative crew, a collection of queer artists and poets and it is an insight into their lives. The final segment deals with a night somewhere in the distant past, and gives the audience a number of alternative realities, as we see how the lives of the characters could have gone in different directions.
This is a very different night at the theatre than what was expected. The play is essentially three short pieces that are linked by a similar theme. The first piece in some ways is the most successful and brings home the difficulties people had finding out information about their past. The second bursts with colour and energy, with a vibrant mix of characters, but feels the furthest away from the topic of the mother and baby homes. It’s a slice of modern and alternative Dublin life. The final piece is the most ethereal and shows how one small choice can change your life forever. The cast members are largely young and play a variety of different roles throughout the evening. Special mention must go to Noelle Brown, who has a powerful section in the second Act, where she discusses her history in the homes. This is an extremely difficult topic to write about, but Dylan Coburn Gray chooses to approach it from an oblique angle and gives us an eclectic view of the repercussions of our collective past.
Written by Dylan Coburn Gray
Directed by Veronica Coburn
Directing Associate: Claire O’Reilly
Set Design: Molly O’Cathain
Costume Design: Pai Rathaya
Lighting Design: Suzie Cummins
Sound Design: Jenny O’Malley
Cast: Jolly Abraham, Curtis-Lee Ashqar, Sheikh Bah, Noelle Brown, Caoimhe Coburn Gray, Kwaku Fortune, Colleen Keogh, Sophie Lenglinger, Leah Minto and Emmanuel Okoye
Image: Issey Goold